Life, on the Line….Grant Achatz
I read a lot. The last few months I have not read as much as I like to and it has been great to be on vacation and read. I basically stopped watching TV years ago and decided that I can’t read and watch TV. I opted for reading instead.
I just finished Grant Achatz's book, Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death and Redefining the Way We Eat. I just loved this book, on so many levels. The first thing I want to do is book a trip to Chicago asap and eat in his restaurant.
I have been following his career for quite a while. I first read about him in the Making of a Chef while he was working at the French Laundry.
This book is more than a memoir, it is a story about an incredible man who envisioned a different dining experience than any of us had ever thought about. He is incredibly competitve yet a leader and an embrasive of his staff and community. He would not stop until he succeeded and even at that point he wanted to succeed some more. I laughed, I learned and I cried.
The first part of the book tells the story of Grant’s roots. He grew up in the restaurant business. His family owned the restaurants that people literally went to eat their meals. It was more than a restaurant, it was an extension of their kitchen. Grant went on to the CIA (Cooking Institute of America) and eventually went on to work at the ripe young age of 21 for Thomas Keller at French Laundry. What he learned there were the basic principles that he continued to carry on to his own kitchen. After spending a summer at El Bulli his eyes opened to a whole new world of how to create food. Achatz is an artist with the magic touch.
The second part of the book is about building Alinea, his four star restaurant in Chicago. Each chapter (although not easy to figure out on a Kindle but you can tell from the voice) goes back and forth from Grant describing his vision for the restaurant from the food to the way people would eat to how the room would feel to his business partner, Nick Kokonas, who writes about the deal. Kokonas writes about how they divided up the stock, how they raised the money, how they built out the construction project, in essence the art of the deal. Reading about each component until opening was interesting, their honesty and drive I found to be exhilerating.
For me, I loved each part. I loved reading the vision of the restaurant through Grant’s eyes as much as I enjoyed reading the vision for the restaurant through Nick’s eyes. As a person who loves cooking and baking as well as being involved with the restaurant world as an investor, I found the book fantastic.
The last part of the book continues to go back and forth from Nick and Grant but it is about the tongue cancer that Grant survived. The agony of finding out what he had particularly after achieving such greatness at such as young age as well as the agony and hope of treatment.
An incredible book. Grant Achatz is a one of a kind human being. He is smart, driven, creative and his life and how he has led it is an inspiration to anyone. Truly an American hero.